Last night (October 17) at Cipriani’s on Wall Street in New York City, a handful of legendary artists– Little Steven Van Zandt, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Elvis Costello and Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers– came together to pay tribute to Darlene Love. It was the fifth annual “Right 2 Rock” event, raising funds for Little Kids Rock, an organization that works to restore and revitalize music education in public schools, mainly in disadvantaged areas that are threatened by budget cuts. Learn more about Little Kids Rock here.
Last year’s honoree, E Street Band guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt is an avowed Love fan, having produced and written for her, he also led a successful campaign to get her inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. He served as the night’s musical director, playing guitar while conducting the band and looking ecstatic the entire time. Last year, Love performed in Van Zandt’s honor. Before last night’s show, she told Radio.com that being honored this year “Is a weird feeling. It’s also humbling” Always gracious, she deflected attention away from herself, saying “It’s not about me, even though they’re honoring me. It’s about the kids. To be able to give them something they need, and can’t afford, and that the government won’t help them with. ”
She says that, were it not for her vocal lessons in school, she may not have become a singer. “There wasn’t really musical instruments in school, but there were glee clubs and a cappella choirs, vocal things. Which was really great, because we got the chance to sing at other schools, representing our school. And our choirs always had like 50 or 60 voices. It was amazing,”
She learned her chops while singing in large groups, as she came to fame singing in a number of combos including the Blossoms, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans and most famously, the Crystals. And while none of those groups had 50 or 60 voices, they all sounded like they did due in part to Phil Spector’s “Wall Of Sound” production technique.
The Beach Boys were certainly paying attention to the records Love sang on, so it was fitting that Brian Wilson was the first performer of the night. Van Zandt, a longtime Beach Boys fan, looked ecstatic as Wilson and members of his solo band sat in chairs at the front of the stage, and launched into “California Girls.” Wilson followed that up with the understatement of the year (or decade): “Now for a nice pretty song called ‘God Only Knows.'” The high rollers at Cipriani’s collective jaws hit the floor, and things only got better from there, as Wilson announced, “Darlene Love: you’re wanted on stage!” She sat with Wilson and friends for a beautiful version of “Don’t Worry Baby.”
Elvis Costello was next, and started things off with “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding,” before diving into Love’s catalog with an impassioned cover of Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans’ “Not Too Young To Get Married.”
As distinct as the original song is, it’s striking how, when Costello sings a song, it becomes an Elvis Costello song. As great a songwriter as the man is, it’s sometimes easy to forget what a great interpreter he is. He then said, “Here’s a song I wrote and I dreamed Darlene sang it.” His dream then promptly came true, as Darlene Love joined him onstage for “Still Too Soon To Know” (from his 1994 album Brutal Youth).
Following up Elvis Costello can’t be easy, but a group of children, armed with guitars provided by Little Kids Rock, took the stage to perform an original, inspired by the events of Hurricane Sandy called “She’s Got A Lot Goin’ On.” That was followed by a long auction where thousands of dollars were raised bidding on packages ranging from tickets to see Kanye West to dinner with Steven and his wife, Maureen Van Zandt.
After that, Bill Medley and Love hit the stage as an ad hoc Righteous Brothers (or Righteous Brother And Sister) for two of that duo’s most celebrated songs, “(You’re My) Soul And Inspiration” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin.'” Medley’s voice sounded a bit rough but soulful, while Love’s voice only seems to get better and better (a point CBS Orchestra leader Paul Shaffer made during the night). After that, Love received her “Big Man Of The Year” award, and then played some of her other big hits: her solo song “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” the Crystals’ “He’s Sure The Boy I Love” (during an instrumental break she grabbed Van Zandt and kissed him on the cheek, in one of the night’s many sweet moments), “River Deep Mountain High,” a gospel song called “Marvelous,” and finally, starting the holiday season early, “(Christmas) Baby Please Come Home.”
In her interview with Radio.com before the show, she said, “I never thought about it when I was young. but [singing in school] had a whole lot to do with me wanting to sing much later in life, and if I had not had that experience in school, I probably would never have done it.” Everyone at Cipriani’s were surely grateful that Love’s early experiences led her on the path to singing, and hopefully the thousands raised at the event will inspire and assist other children to follow her lead.